Terri Parlato
January 5, 2024

Terri Parlato was born and raised in upstate New York. She currently lives in a small north Georgia town with her husband and their dog, Lucy.

Interview by Elise Cooper

Q: Why did you choose ballet as a central theme for your book?

Terri Parlato: I had the main character as a professional ballerina, but then her dancing days ended due to an injury. I explored how does she move forward. I wanted to give her a professional life and wrote about something I really love. I vicariously enjoyed ballet and read books about ballerinas. I went to the ballet whenever I could. Esmé had to retire at age 27 which is not unusual because they have a short career. Ballet is very hard on the body.

Q: Many dancers and sports figures seem to struggle with retirement. Do you agree with this observation?

Terri Parlato: To be a ballerina and even with sports it is a passion. I wanted to write what happens to that person who devoted their whole life to something and it comes to an end. How would she handle it?

Q: Can you tell us about Esmé and her relationships with her friends?

Terri Parlato: They were close friends. After Esmé graduated from high school she ran away to another state. Now that she is back home, she wants to reunite with her friends and is devastated that one of them, Kara, was murdered. She feels guilty because she never tried to keep up the friendship and now that Kara is dead, she has no chance of doing it. She had a lot of regrets. All these friends become suspects in Kara’s death.

Q: How would you characterize the victim, Kara, in your story?

Terri Parlato: Sweet, naïve, trusting, and an addict. Her father left when she was little which made her insecure.

Q: What about the main character, Esmé? How does she develop throughout the book?

Terri Parlato: When she was young, she was selfish. Her father was an alcoholic which affected her. But she matures throughout the book. I want my main character to go on a journey, changing for the better.

Q: Why did you choose to write from different narratives?

Terri Parlato: I used to write in third person. But then I read a book by Mary Kubica that had several points of view. I thought how it got me into the mind of the character, in first person. It also helps me build suspense as well.

Q: There’s a quote in the book by Esmé describing her family. Can you explain its significance?

Terri Parlato: She felt being home was not great, but it was home sweet home. “There is something deep connecting us to the place where we grew up. The familiar scenery, smells, memories. It is a sense of belonging, shared histories…” Looking at my own life, I am very sentimental and nostalgic. Even though everything when I was a child was not necessarily happy, it was still home. I wanted to show how it was bittersweet for Esmé who was gone for eleven years, to now come home. Things might have been sad and scary, but she did find there were good times.

Q: Can you describe Detective Rita, a character in your series?

Terri Parlato: This is the second book in the series. In the first book, All the Dark Places, Rita had another case to solve. I am still flushing out her personality. I wanted to create a detective who was an older woman. She is still vital in her career and is not someone who is pushed to the sidelines. She is a workaholic that limits her social life. She is very independent and tough.

Q: Why did you include the “Sweet Dancer” poem at the beginning of the book?

Terri Parlato: I am a former English teacher. I love poetry. To me, this sounds so much like Esmé. It is a poem about ballet, but there is some darkness in it as well. People will have read it before they start the story. I wanted to bring some artistic sentiment since Esmé is a retired ballerina in an emotional state. I think poetry elicits emotion.

Q: What are your plans for your next book?

Terri Parlato: Rita will be in the next book. Same police department, same fictional town. There is no title yet. It should come out next December. There will be a compelling case for Rita to solve. There will be a third point of view. This one does not start with a murder, which is different than the first two books in the series.

Review by Elise Cooper

What Waits in The Woods by Terri Parlato has a riveting plot.  Not only does it have a full mystery with many people of interest, but it also explores how an athlete, in this case a dancer, can have their career derailed by an injury. 

Esmé Foster forcibly retired from her chosen career as a ballet dancer. Now, eleven years later she returns home to Graybridge.  But her return home is anything but calm, considering it coincides with one of her high school friends, Kara Cunningham, found dead in the woods behind the Fosters’ house. Her crushed skull allows detective Rita Myers to realize it was not an accident, but a murder. 

Now, Esmé’s high school friends, her family, and neighbors are all suspects. To make matters worse the killing has intensified the nightmares Esmé had after her mother was killed in a car accident when she was nine. She remembers a man who showed up at the scene of the car accident and told Esmé he was going to kill her too. Family and friends insist that no man exists and that her memory is faulty. But that never stopped the nightmares or her determination to find the “Phantom” man. 

This story is told in two perspectives which increases the intensity. The neighbors, Mr. York, and the Ridley family, also have reasons to be considered people of interest.  One is a creepy old man, and the family has a drug dealer, a convict who finished serving time, and a sister who has a brain injury from a childhood tumble down a flight of stairs and was suspected of quarreling with her sister and drowning her. 

There are not only multiple suspects but also multiple twists and turns. Readers will be kept guessing as to who the killer is and what was their motive.

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